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The ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong turned violent overnight as police began using live rounds, tear gas, and water cannons to disperse gathered crowds ahead of celebrations marking the 70th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party.
A protester was shot in the chest with a live bullet Tuesday according to the New York Times, opening a new, more violent chapter in the months-long string of demonstrations against increasing Chinese control over the island city-state.
“The protester was shot in the Tsuen Wan district of northern Hong Kong. Tsuen Wan is a working-class area near Hong Kong’s border with the Chinese mainland, miles from the city’s gleaming financial district,” the NYT reports. “Yolanda Yu, a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Police Force, said in a video posted on the force’s Facebook page that the protester was an 18-year-old who had been shot in the left shoulder. She said the protester was conscious as he was taken to the hospital.”
The teen, local sources told the Times, remains in critical condition. The bullet punctured one of his lungs and lodged just an inch from his heart.
Hong Kong police told media that they had no choice but to begin using live rounds after a weekend of “riots,” and rumors that a “very serious violent attack” was planned by pro-democracy activists to mark the Chinese Communist Party’s 70th birthday.
“We are on the verge of extreme danger,” a police spokesperson told Reuters.
Police have, so far, arrested 157 people, including around 70 students. Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority told media that 51 people were sent to medical facilites over the weekend and two were in critical condition.
The crackdown has also been an excuse for Hong Kong police to arrest vocal dissidents. “Two prominent democracy activists, actor Gregory Wong and Ventus Lau, were arrested for their involvement in protests on Monday, according to a representative for the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the organizer of previous mass protests,” Reuters reports.
Experts speculate, however, that the sudden uptick in aggression on the part of Hong Kong police has less to do with an increase in violence on the part of protesters and more to do with China. Hong Kong’s government — and particularly its Chinese-affiliated chief executive Carrie Lam — is under extreme pressure from Beijing to end the demonstrations, and Hong Kong authorities likely did not want a major demonstration to draw attention to Hong Kong’s plight on an important Chinese Communist holiday.
Lam was in Beijing Tuesday, summoned at the last minute to the Chinese capital.
China had likely anticipated that the protests would die down after Lam and her government killed a bill expanding Chinese authority to identify, investigate, and arrest political dissidents who escaped to Hong Kong within the boundaries of the island city-state. That measure was tabled indefinitely after the protests began, and once it was clear that nearly half of the city-state’s seven million people took part in the demonstrations, was taken off the table completely (though likely not forever).
Instead, the protests have continued, and Hong Kong law enforcement has become increasingly hostile.
This past weekend, clashes between protesters and police became more frequent, and many ended in violence. The protests themselves have become more aggressive. At one point, the anti-China sentiment went from implied to overt, and Saturday, demonstrators were burning Chinese flags in the city center. The words “Live Free Or Die” appeared across Hong Kong, graffitied on to walls and monuments.
— CNW (@ConflictsW) September 29, 2019
Tuesday’s demonstrations ended without any significant riot event.